Friday, 23 December 2016

Reflections on the Information Age and 2016 Christmas message

Readers, as we come to the end of the year 2016 AD, we also come to an end of another chapter in the history of humanity: The Information Age.

Above all else, and amidst all the ideologies humanity has been through since 1980, especially 'neoliberal economics', progress in computer technology and electronics has changed our history forever. Back in 1980, mobile phones simply did not exist and personal computers were still largely being invented even though the first one, the Altair, had gone on sale as far back as 1975, and social media had not even been conceived. Now in 2016, we have many social media outlets, with Facebook and Twitter being the most dominant and seen as essential by most of my young generation, mobile phones in ubiquitous use and with easy internet access, default online communication and access for a majority of services, electronic application forms, and with electronic payments becoming the norm rather than the exception (cash is still useful for security reasons, though!)

Increasing awareness of environmental issues and other things green has been a feature of this age, with the first widely recognised Green breakthrough coming in 1983 in West Germany, and with environmentalism becoming more and more prominent particularly in light of disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spillage, extensive damage to the Great Barrier Reef due to an excess concentration of plastics in the oceans, not to mention the increasing problems caused by air pollution in the world's cities and countryside. Although there have been several attempts at global agreements to tackle artificial climate change, they are still not succeeding despite increasing pressure.

Both of these features have brought about permanent fundamental restructuring of our societies-full employment is no longer around in most countries and employment is becoming increasingly unstable even if more flexible than in the past. We are also becoming more socially distant from each other and often our sense of community identity is becoming eroded; this has been particularly notable in towns and cities where traditional industries are in decline or have disappeared altogether. However, we are also becoming better at creating 'communities within communities' in response to expansion of cities, not only offline but also online.

We have generally become much more respectful of equality and diversity over the last 30 years (despite a small minority of bigots still being around) with women's rights, ethnic minority rights and LGBTIQA+ rights having made the most substantial advances. Disability rights are also advancing, but in many societies there is a long way to go in terms of accessibility, inclusivity, and acceptance of disability, particularly neurodiverse developmental conditions such as autism spectrum conditions and ADHD. The neurodiverse rights movement, of which I am a part as an autistic person, will become the next important rights movement in humanity's history.

It has become clear in the last few years that the neoliberal economic system that has dominated the Information Age has failed, and that a return to the Keynesian consensus is not really possible either as humanity has little more room to grow. This has yielded a rise in demagogue-like protest movements across much of the world, and increasing support for more radical parties on both sides (but mainly on the 'right') of the political spectrum. The vote to leave the European Union in Britain, the election of Donald Trump to the White House, the increasing rise in soft and hard nationalism across Europe, and a statement that we had entered the 'Anthropocene Era' because of the mark we have left due to our alteration of our natural environment, have been key defining events of 2016, and have opened the keys to humanity's next chapter.

The next chapter of human history, which I shall term the Cyberspace Age given how so many things and decision will happen on the Internet rather than the physical world, gives us even more long-term challenges than the chapter we have just left. Automation, where many of our current jobs will be carried out by machines instead of human hands, will have a major socio-economic impact on humanity and simply because of increasing technological progress rather than political ideology. The Channel Four comedy show 'Bad Robots' was merely the start of what will rapidly become a trend, and something akin to a 'Black Mirror' episode will become widespread in our world to one degree or another. The revival of the basic income concept, which was first tested in the 1970s, will likely become a new global means of making sure everyone has enough to survive and keep their heads above water, especially if many jobs cannot be replaced. Experiments on basic income are already underway in Finland, which is rapidly becoming a leader in innovative social development.

Most of all, we must strengthen our respect for our planet and our natural world in all spheres of our life-because if we do not, the next chapter of human civilisation could be the last we ever see.

Merry Christmas to you all-let us wake up in a new chapter come 2017.





Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Copeland Test

Readers, Jamie Reed, Labour MP for Copeland since 2005, has recently resigned in order to get a new job as Head of Development with the Sellafield nuclear power plant, which provides substantial employment in rural Cumbria. This means a by-election will take place in the Copeland constituency sometime in early 2017 (date TBC).

Copeland, called Whitehaven from 1832 to 1983 (Whitehaven is in fact still the clear focal point for this constituency, and little real change has happened to this constituency's boundaries since 1918) has been Labour-held since 1935 like many safe northern Labour seats, but the Conservatives do often make a strong challenge in their strongest years, reducing the Labour majority to as low as 4.3% in 1983 and 1987, and to just 6.5% in 2015 partly due to UKIP's intervention, which actually damaged both the Labour and Conservative votes. This is also strictly a Labour vs. Conservative contest, since the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors have never been able to manage better than 15.9% in their best years, and they struggle to better 10% most of the time. They have also elected a grand total of just two councillors throughout the whole history of the Copeland district from its first election of 1973. Like many rural areas, Copeland retains an Independent tradition despite the main towns (Egremont, Cleator Moor, and of course Whitehaven) being overwhelmingly Labour most of the time.

Copeland contains a lot of voters that politicians need to start listening to and connecting to, exemplified by the fact that this constituency voted to leave the EU by a margin of 62% to 38%, not that Brexit itself will be the most significant factor by any standards. Many of them were once industrial workers, but the coal and iron works in this area are long gone and it is mainly the Sellafield nuclear plant that is providing much of the employment in this area in addition to whatever harbour work remains around Whitehaven.  This also happened to be where the digital switchover trial for television began, meaning Cumbria was the first county to switch off its analogue signals, something I noticed when I holidayed in the Lake District (not too far from Copeland geographically but a very different area by any standards!) six years ago. Labour is losing their hold over a lot of their traditional, more rural and non-metropolitan voters, and these are the people losing out most in our modern, high-tech society at present.

Growth of green jobs and green technology is something Britain will really need to get going in the next few years if it is to prosper (particularly after we leave the EU), and Copeland is where they can be particularly useful and utilise the skills once used in coal-working, iron-working, and in chemical plants. Industrial and technological knowledge will be key to research and development of renewable energy technology and in sustainable farming, which Copeland's environment can provide in spades.

This by-election will prove a critical test for every major political party in Britain-not just Labour and the Conservatives. It is rather reminiscent of the Darlington by-election of March 1983, which Labour held on narrowly but then lost badly to the Conservatives in the June 1983 general election just 11 weeks later because their vision failed to appeal to the same type of voters in Darlington that are also abundant in Copeland.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

O Christmas-goers of Britain


(To be mainly sung to the hymn 'Forest Green' aka 'O Little Town of Bethlehem')

O Christmasgoers of Great Britain,
Try and see past that gleam,
Those glittering gifts and tacked-up baubles
Of which many can only dream,
For near you, also exists a grey Christmas,
Filled with despair and hopelessness.
Just five minutes of your kindness will brighten the day of
A child poor, sick and homeless.

Is this the sort of Yuletide
That truly keeps to Yule,
With neon lights, pushy sparkling adverts,
And shoppers so easily fooled?
When all the while, so many just want
Food, shelter and company.
All three of which will be enough to represent
Gold, frankincense and myrrh truly.

If Christ himself could have foreseen this,
Surely he would have sadly sighed,
We forgot how to show our true festivities
Amidst those bright night lights.
The true spirit of Christmas is worth infinitely more
Than pieces of overpriced tat
Even though it seems so high-tech and so up-to-date,
It will be ditched in about ten minutes flat.

Friday, 16 December 2016

My analysis of local by-elections from the first 3 weeks of December 2016 and on local governmental reform

Readers, the results of local by-elections featuring Green Party candidates within the first three weeks of December 2016 were as follows:

(01/12/16):

South Northamptonshire DC, Grange Park:  Conservative 244 (58.4%, -9.7%), Labour 105 (25.1%, -6.8%), UKIP 49 (11.7%), Green 20 (4.8%)

Tower Hamlets LBC, Whitechapel: Independent (ex-Tower Hamlets First) 1147 (44.7%, +4.4%), Lab 823 (32.1%, +6.5%), Con 217 (8.5%, +0.7%), Lib Dem 173 (6.8%, -0.1%), Green 170 (6.6%, -6.4%), UKIP 34 (1.3%).

(08/12/16):

Lancaster BC, University & Scotforth Rural: Lab 98 (34.9%, -1.0%), Green 79 (28.1%, -3.8%), Con 68 (24.2%, -1.5%), Lib Dem 36 (12.8%, +6.3%)

Maldon DC, Maldon West: Ind 279 (38.1%), Con 172 (23.5%, -5.3%), UKIP 114 (15.5%), Green 69 (9.4%, -10.3%), BNP 51 (7.0%), Lab 47 (6.4%).

(15/12/16):

Fife UA, Leven, Kenneway & Largo (1st preference votes): SNP 1501 (37.0%, -4.1%), Labour 1155 (28.4%, -6.9%), Conservative 752 (18.5%, +11.7%), Liberal Democrats 580 (14.3%, +4.3%), Green 74 (1.8%)

As I was writing rather extensive analyses on the Richmond Park by-election and the Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election during the weeks of 1st December and 8th December, I did not have time to comment on those local by-elections then, especially since there are not many local by-elections in December and those that do have very low turnouts indeed. This was exemplified in the by-election of student-dominated University & Scotsforth Rural ward, which I sincerely hoped we would gain even with many students not voting (and more not even registered) in light of Labour becoming increasingly useless in the eyes of many under Corbyn's tenure.

Elsewhere in local by-elections where no Green Party candidate was present, the Liberal Democrats were regaining ground in rural areas of the West Country, particularly Devon and Somerset. The Taunton Deane result is notable here not only because of the very large 40.15% swing, but also because Taunton Deane council is planning a merger with the much smaller and nearby West Somerset council, and once this happens the whole ward map will need to be redrawn.

This is likely just predicting another trend of local government reforms-the rural Dorset councils could end up merging as well with Bournemouth/Poole/Christchurch (aka South East Dorset) having absorbed half of Dorset's current population into its conurbation. Buckinghamshire's four district councils are requesting 'unitarisation' of Buckinghamshire, especially with Buckinghamshire County Council's grant set to disappear in a matter of years. Many small districts have now become ipso facto suburbs of large cities-Broxtowe & Gedling are effectively now one with the city of Nottingham and the majority of South Gloucestershire (but not the area currently covered by the Thornbury & Yate constituency, just so you know!) is almost entirely intertwined with the city of Bristol. The same is applicable with quite a few villages in the South Cambridgeshire district with regards to the city of Cambridge, particularly with more suburban development set to take place there.

Increasing urbanisation and suburbanisation is in my opinion more responsible for this than budget cuts to council grants (to all types of councils except in the wealthier areas, like Surrey). With many conurbations having already absorbed towns and villages containing tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands in some cases) of people into their new effective boundaries, I would not be surprised to see another round of major structural local government reforms in the next decade and/or the abolition of possibly all remaining county councils in Britain .Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland no longer have any county councils at all, the metropolitan county councils have not existed for 30 years (meaning all metropolitan boroughs are really just unitary authorities), and of the 39 non-metropolitan counties which still overall form the two-tier basis for the local government system we have in England, seven have already been split and another five have been 'unitarised' (stripped of all underlying districts).

Monday, 12 December 2016

My analysis of the 2016 Romanian and Macedonian parliamentary elections

Yesterday, two European countries, Macedonia and Romania, held parliamentary elections whose results bucked international trends that have been happening in Europe and elsewhere.

Social democracy as a force is in long-term decline but both social-democratic parties performed well in both Macedonia and Romania. In Macedonia, the ruling nationalist and conservative party, VMRO-DPMNE (which in Macedonian stands for International Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity), which had experienced two major national protests under the tenure of ex-PM Nikola Gruevski, was soundly defeated despite just about retaining its status as the largest party in Macedonia, losing 10 seats and its overall majority in the Assembly. Its one-time allies, the Democratic Union for Integration, lost nearly half of their seats (they were reduced to 10 from 19), whereas the Social Democratic Union boosted their total to 49 seats, giving them potentially strong enough leverage to form the new government. A splinter group of VMRO gained no real traction, polling just 2.12%, not enough to qualify for any seats even though Macedonia does not have a set minimum threshold for representation. The same occurred with The Left, the best 'alternative' party available to vote for in Macedonia in the absence of any Green/Ecologist list standing. At this point, it can only be ascertained that Nikola Gruevski will not continue as Macedonian PM, given that he agreed to stand down in order to negotiate a halt to those protests.

Romania's story in the run-up to their 2016 elections is rather more interesting. Last year it ditched the use of first past the post and returned to party-list proportional representation. Many political parties have endured corruption scandals, especially those on the 'left'. The People's Party-Dan Diaconescu was starting to gain traction from lapsed PSD (Social Democrat) voters, but its leader Dan Diaconescu was later convicted of extortion, leading his party to be absorbed by UNPR. UNPR then ended up joining with former President Traiain Basescu's PMP movement, despite major protests from some UNPR members resulting from corruption scandals Traian was involved in and key differences in UNPR and PMP policy which would normally have ruled out a merger of this nature. Meanwhile, the hardline nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) was rapidly losing support, especially after the death of its longtime leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, in 2015.

Both the PSD and PNL (National Liberal Party, Romania's main conservative party) suffered some losses, the PNL more so, prompting its leader, Alina Ghorghiu, to resign shortly after the election concluded. The PNL bled some support to a new liberal party, which incidentally has the initials ALDE, the same used for the Europe-wide alliance of liberals. The anti-corruption Save Romania Union proved to be the new rising star (just like ANO in the Czech Republic three years ago), although despite its freshness it could only obtain 8.8% of the vote and third place, not nearly as well as ANO managed in 2013. Neither nationalist right party managed to obtain representation, with the United Romania Party (amazingly founded by an ex-PSD Assembly member!) polling 2.8% and the PRM polling just over 1%. Sadly, this proved to be more than Romania's main green party, the Ecologist Party of Romania, could manage, at 0.91%, which was nevertheless a small improvement on 2012. The other Green Party in Romania could not even manage 1000 votes for either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate-perhaps it is time that the two parties merged, since green politics needs to remain united over key green issues more than ever, and I do not just mean saving our planet. Green politics is still struggling in Eastern Europe, but it is making progress slowly but surely.

As we near the end of 2016, and the end of the current era in modern human history, I will say that next year's round of legislative elections will be more important than ever, especially those in France and Germany (coupled with the outside chance of a snap general election occurring in the UK).








Friday, 9 December 2016

A cloud flies over Sleaford & North Hykeham and other thoughts

Readers, the result of the Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election was as follows:

Victoria Ayling, UKIP, 4,426 (13.5%, -2.2%)

David Bishop, Bus-Pass Elvis Party, 55 (0.2%)

Jim Clarke, Labour, 3,363 (10.2%, -7.1%)

Paul Coyne (No Description, ex-Lincolnshire Independent), 186 (0.6%)

Caroline Johnson, Conservative, 17,570 (53.5%, -2.7%)

Marianne Overton, Lincolnshire Independents, 2,892 (8.8%, +3.6%)

Ross Pepper, Liberal Democrats, 3,606 (11.0%, +5.3%)

The Iconic Arty-Pole (real name Peter Hill), OMRLP, 200 (0.6%)

Sarah Stock, Independent, 462 (1.4%)

Mark Suffield, Independent, 74 (0.2%)

Sleaford & North Hykeham is one of the safest Conservative seats in England, and is also rural meaning potential for change is more limited than in urban or suburban constituencies. There are fewer transient voters, fewer people in more casual jobs and higher levels of owner-occupation in the majority of predominantly rural seats (for richer or for poorer) meaning that swings in them tend to be considerably lower in by-elections than urban or suburban seats. This held true in 2015, where the only significant slump was that of the Liberal Democrats where they lost more than two-thirds of their 2010 vote, and here where no increases or decreases in vote share of 10% or greater were recorded for any candidate.  The easy Conservative hold was therefore not unexpected by any means, especially with low levels of coverage being given until the count.

The 'Progressive Alliance' tactic here failed badly, since Sarah Stock, a Save Grantham Hospital campaigner who was backed by the local Green Party, failed to even save her deposit or make any difference to the result. Had she not been backed by the Green Party she would almost certainly have struggled to obtain even 1% of the vote, given that Grantham Hospital is not geographically in the constituency (some residents use it, though) and that since North Hykeham is effectively a suburb of the city of Lincoln (in fact, it will almost certainly be joined with the current constituency of Lincoln in the next round of boundary changes), North Hykeham residents can use Lincoln County Hospital instead. In fact, we would have almost certainly achieved a better result if we had stood as per usual, even with no Green Party candidates having ever stood in Sleaford & North Hykeham, since unlike in Richmond Park or Witney there is no real Liberal Democrat momentum (outside the more affluent parts of North Hykeham) here and there never has been.

Rural constituencies are the ones that will be worst affected by artificial climate change or other environmental damage, and which can benefit more from Green Party philosophy, so we Greens need to be more active in these constituencies locally and nationally, not less, especially when many Conservatives in local elections in 2015 in rural areas were opposed only by Green Party candidates, which was the case in two wards of East Hertfordshire (Great Amwell and Little Hadham) where I live.

Further evidence has come to light, from letter-writers and elsewhere, that had Zac Goldsmith been able to stand as an official Conservative candidate like David Davis in Haltemprice & Howden's by-election of 2008, he might have been able to hold it, if only narrowly, since tribal voters exist for all parties in every constituency, no matter how hard the squeezing by one or more other political parties goes on in elections. Even in the worst years for the Conservative Party, the Conservative vote in Richmond Park has never dipped below 39%. The lowest Conservative vote share in Sleaford & North Hykeham by comparison was 43.9% in 1997, and the Liberal Democrats still cobbled together 5.7% in that constituency in 2015.

Even though I do not believe in Progressive Alliances and seen evidence of them not actually working out (this one certainly did not), cross-party co-operation on some issues once people are actually elected remains important. This was demonstrated in an early morning debate about the need to properly tackle violence against women in Britain, when Michelle Thomson (Independent [ex-SNP], Edinburgh West), Mims Davies (Conservative, Eastleigh), Tracy Brabin (Labour, Batley & Spen), Seema Malhotra (Labour, Feltham & Heston) and others who I did not hear all spoke about their own direct and indirect experiences of such violence and concerns that not enough is being done to tackle it, and the fact many victims still do not see proper justice of any kind (Tracy Brabin described herself as lucky in that respect because her attacker was caught and imprisoned) due to failures in our justice system, cultural attitudes towards domestic and sexual violence, and a lack of willingness to speak out. So many rape crisis centres have been closed and a lot do not have sufficient funding, and many of these closures have come since the current Conservative-led government took office in 2010. This is an issue we must all work together to deal with, especially when family and friends also suffer as well as the victims.








Monday, 5 December 2016

Positive change can happen when we band together

Yesterday, after a long-awaited runoff, Alexander van der Bellen, running as an Independent candidate in the 2016 Austrian presidential election despite actually being a member of Die Grunen, succeeded in becoming the next President of Austria, defeating the Freedom Party's Norbert Hofer, to the delight of real progressives like myself. As I said earlier, the two long-running Establishment partners-in-crime in Austria, the OVP and SPO, did not even make it to the runoff.

The Italian constitutional referendum on changing the fundamental structure of its Parliament, introducing a winner take all premium (similar in principle to the 50 bonus seats rule in the Hellenic Parliament in Greece), and reducing the powers of the Senate was a clear example of where the real divides lie (centrist and moderate parties supported a Yes vote, but more radical and regionalist parties on both sides were firmly in favour of a No vote). Also, only the three most prosperous and culturally richest areas of Italy (Emilio-Romagna, Trentino-South Tyrol, and Tuscany) delivered a Yes vote when the overall vote delivered a decisive victory for No, by a margin of 18.2% to boot. Prosperity is not the only factor boosting turnout-strength of localism and a sense of identity are positive indicators for high turnout areas irrespective of wealth, as Veneto's decisive No vote (61.9%) coupled with it having the highest turnout in the referendum (76.7%) clearly indicates. Veneto is the strongest region for the regionalist, strongly Eurosceptic, and anti-immigration Lega Nord (LN) Party. The decisive No vote has resulted in the resignation of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose main calls for reform would have really been mainly for the benefit of the longer-established parties and political cliques in Italy rather than for the Italian people themselves.

What do these important European results both indicate?

That a desire for fundamental and systematic change is coming from both sides away from the 'centre' of the political spectrum, that the ordinary people are fighting back, but also that we can bring hope, justice, unity, peace, and action to protect our environment and appeal to more ordinary voters at the same time, those who feel so disaffected with an elitist, out of touch, unreforming establishment that exists in one form or another all across the democratic world. When we ride the winds of change, we can defeat the forces of fear, those represented by Norbert Hofer, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and other dangerous demagogues more concerned with their own interests. There has been speculation that the Italian referendum result could have rippling Eurozone effects, but in the long-term, eroding and ending the Eurozone will be important for Europe to regain sovereignty and freedom from the tentacles of an increasingly authoritarian European Union bureaucracy and European Central Bank. With 38% of young people in Italy unemployed, a breath of fresh air somewhere would be very welcome even if it came with short-term pain coming from ditching the Euro.

The current centre is as much an enemy of the people as the 'alt-right'-its increasing desire internationally for excessive censorship, to spy on us in an Orwellian manner, and its continued determination to let private companies reap the rewards from mismanagement, incompetence, and downright immorality whilst leaving honest taxpayers like you and I to pay to clear up their mess (not ours!) is why it should not be trusted, no matter how calming and professional it tries to look.

Let us instead be inspired by victories like Alexander van der Bellen's-we can keep on coming as long as we distance ourselves from the status quo whilst promoting a positive message that can help us all.







Saturday, 3 December 2016

My alternative constituencies: Northern Ireland (briefing on Scotland)

I would at this point have started off with alternative constituency proposals for Scotland to end my series on alternative constituencies for the 2018 review.

However, the Boundary Commission for Scotland's site (www.bcs2018.org.uk) does not give me the option to select polling districts which is necessary for modifying constituencies I believe to be unacceptable, and this is essential in Scotland since due to its use of STV for local government elections, every ward must have 3 or 4 members and every ward therefore must have large numbers of electors to maintain both proportionality and fairness. Therefore, I will have to move to Northern Ireland in terms of alternative constituencies, and briefly say that the rule allowing constituencies of between 12,000 and 13,000 sq km in area to have an electorate under the minimum quota should be applied, in order to have undersized but geographically large constituencies in the Highland area (the only council area in the whole of the United Kingdom where this rule has any effect, being the only one larger than 12,000 sq km). These should be Caithness, Sutherland & Ross and Skye, Lochaber & Oban, with the other Highland constituency being Inverness. As I only included 49 constituencies in my alternative proposals across the 'Yorkshire & The Humber' region (partly caused by separating Selby from North Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire from East Yorkshire), I needed to include 54 constituencies in Scotland (52 if you discount the protected Na h-Eilanan an lar and Orkney & Shetland island constituencies) to make sure that there would be 600 constituencies in total.

Therefore, I will focus on Northern Ireland, also known as the six counties of Ulster that remain part of the UK (Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan are part of the Republic of Ireland). It has undergone major local governmental reform in the last few years, culminating with the creation of many super councils that have no respect for traditional county borders which are much more important here. However, this reform has at the same time recognised how far the Northern Irish capital of Belfast now extends in reality. Northern Ireland is also subject to a less restrictive minimum electorate limit: 69,401 instead of 71,507. It would be more helpful if the rest of the UK could benefit from that lower limit.

It has been suggested that Mid-Ulster be abolished (given that it contains parts of both Londonderry and Tyrone) but unfortunately I have not been able to find a constructive way of achieving this, given that Armagh should be separate from Londonderry and Tyrone for constituency purposes, and should simply be divided into Newry & Armagh and Craigavon (Upper Bann minus the County Down parts) so that they are both within County Armagh as much as possible. I have therefore decided to merely extend Mid Ulster and rename it Glenshane, and at the same time perform minimum change with Fermanagh & South Tyrone and West Tyrone (and no real change at all in Foyle's case). The growth of coastal towns in Antrim not too far from Belfast (e.g. Carrickfergus) necessitates significant change there, as does separating the city of Lisburn (currently the dominant part of the Lagan Valley constituency) from the hinterlands of County Down as the Boundary Commission has wisely recommended.

My alternative constituencies for Northern Ireland therefore look like this:




Belfast South is abolished.
Lagan Valley is abolished, its Antrim and Down parts returning to whence they came.
Belfast North West succeeds Belfast North.
Belfast South West succeeds Belfast West.
Craigavon succeeds Upper Bann; this time it is (almost) entirely in County Armagh.
Mid Antrim succeeds North Antrim in practice.
East Londonderry & Ballymoney succeeds East Londonderry, stretching along the Causeway Coast.
Glenshane succeeds Mid-Ulster, taking in more of County Londonderry. It is named for the Glenshane Pass that lies within the constituency.
West Down is a new seat.

I will note that when I say a constituency succeeds another 'in practice', it means that the old constituency has been substantially changed even though enough of it remains to be a predecessor of a successor constituency This generally means that the old constituency makes up only 50-65% of the electorate of a successor constituency, and often adds electors from two or more other constituencies.

There is still time to submit constituency proposals online to the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, depending on where you live within the United Kingdom. The deadline is 5th December, so not delay if your proposals are ready.

Alan.







Friday, 2 December 2016

The Zac has crash-landed

In case you have not seen them yet, here are the results of the momentous Richmond Park by-election:

Zac Goldsmith, Independent, 18,638 (45.1%, -13.1%**)

Howling Laud Hope, Official Monster Raving Loony Party, 184 (0.4%)

Ankit Love (aka Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir), One Love Party, 67 (0.2%)

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrats, 20,510 (49.7%, +30.4%)

David Powell (no description), 32 (0.1%)

Dominic Stockford, Christian Peoples Alliance, 164 (0.4%)

Fiona Syms, Independent, 173 (0.4%)

Christian Wolmar, Labour Party, 1,515 (3.7%, -8.6%)

Even many minutes before the official declaration, it was clear that Zac Goldsmith, the former Conservative MP who ran on a ticket to oppose the third runway at Heathrow, was going to lose to Sarah Olney, who becomes the first Liberal Democrat MP to have not been a member of that party during its infamous coalition years.

Many are claiming that a 'Progressive Alliance' (which I do not support and nor do many of my friends because of the past acts of Labour and the Lib Dems and the fact they did not represent real change at all, and still do not) was responsible for that Lib Dem victory with a margin of 1,872. However, further analysis of this by-election and what occurred show that this is not the case. The Green Party should have stood to offer voters in Richmond Park a real choice about environmental and social justice (it is the principle and taking part that counts even if you do not win the election in the end!) and could potentially have won the by-election themselves if they had stood were it not for the Lib Dems' ability to rouse more supporters and money. Turnout dropped sharply from 76.5% to 53.5%, significant in a constituency where turnout is consistently among the highest in Britain whatever the weather or circumstances, where there was an intense battle royale between Zac and Sarah, and where there was an issue deep to locals' hearts and minds. Even in 2001, where the general election turnout dropped to a dismal 59% overall, more than two-thirds of Richmond Park's electorate still voted. I believe that many Green voters instead stayed at home rather than vote tactically, because like every other major party we have core voters everywhere. Greens should stand everywhere and for everyone in Britain in future, and make it clear that we are the most modern and most honest voice of change, and that it is important to care about our planet in order to look after ourselves and each other.

The fact is Zac brought this loss on himself, tactical voting or no tactical voting, with his disastrous mayoral campaign earlier, his support for exiting the EU in a constituency which voted heavily to remain in the EU, and the taxpayers' expense he went to in order to make this protest. Before nominations had even closed, several people said publicly they would not vote for him on the grounds of him 'being a pompous prat'. It seems rather a fitting end to his once-glittering (by Conservative standards) political career.

Labour losing their deposit was hardly surprising given how determined Zac and Sarah were to defend and gain this seat respectively, and Labour had very nearly lost their deposit in Richmond Park back in 2010, this being their worst constituency in the whole of Greater London. Amidst the rest, it was surprisingly OMRLP leader Howling Laud Hope who finished fourth, albeit with just 184 votes and less than half a percent of the vote, making this the worst fourth-place finish for any candidate since Christopher Teasdale (using the description 'Soon To Be Unemployed') in the 1984 Stafford & Stone by-election. Meanwhile, the Independent Conservative and pro-Heathrow campaign of Fiona Syms (ex-wife of Robert Syms, Conservative MP for Poole since 1997) was a complete flop, as she finished behind even the Monster Raving Loonies. The wooden spoon award for this by-election was picked up by David Powell, who polled only 32 votes, less than half of that of even completely inept perennial candidate Ankit Love-and I have not been able to figure out what he was actually doing here.

The by-election also demonstrates a greater need for electoral reform. People should be able to vote for who they believe in and for what they believe is right, not tactically or to remove a candidate they do not want. It is also clear that the £500 deposit barrier is not effective at deterring frivolous or completely useless candidates-it just shuts out new and less well-resourced parties and candidates, and discriminates particularly against candidates who are women, have disabilities and/or caring responsibilities of some kind. Introducing some form of proportional representation and increasing the signature requirement while scrapping the requirement for a deposit needs to happen sooner rather than later-this works well in many other countries.